Thursday, May 29, 2014

Building Castles in the Mind

Speaking as an author who's made up an unrecorded building or two in my world-building:  it's a pleasure to know there *are* buildings in the world (even quite large ones) which have gone unrecorded.  I give you the previously unknown Gallo-Roman edifice at Oise.

Okay, actually the BBC and do, but still.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Home Collecting

Yesterday's lawn-mowing adventure cam out nicely, however there was that one moment where I had to yank the mower off the small stump of a boxwood cut down last year, and today I appear to be paying for my bravado in back pain.  I'm not being miserable and I seem to have everything I need - it's just the clear need for a muscle relaxant making me out of sorts.  Once I take it, I'll be out of commission mentally - so I'm doing a little poking around online, and looking at the editing work before I cave in and zonk my brain out.

I'd make a cruddy drug addict.  Ah well, my cross to bear.

And onward with the post.  Leila Gaskin has a good look at the irritant that is a chain letter ... and she takes an interesting left turn worth considering!

Janet Reid gives us four pieces of useful advice from the query pile.  Her #1 is probably my number one as well.

Finally, The History Blog takes a look at the way resources influence fashion - with a look at the Argentinian development of a Spanish fashion for hair combs.  Fashions and fads in history can throw such a fascinating light onto attitudes and the mechanics both of popularity and decline.  (Wearing something that speaks of the "Federation of Death" might sound odd to us today - yet that famous anti Semite still permeates our stylistic generation upon generation, so don't sneer if you love Chanel.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014


The History Blog has some very nice details on the recent geek-bonanza, the sale of the first Wolverine artwork.  One of the most significant pieces of original comic art - and a fun story for some of my graphic-loving readers.

At the HB once again, take a look at a Conquest era skeleton.  Well, as for ME anyway, this sort of thing is fascinating.

It's not my era, but it's dead-on my territories (with Ax, anyway) - explore the Roman camp at Thuringia ... and their bread ovens, no less.  More thanks to the HB.

Two Nerdy History Girls have also been busy - here we get a look at the history of DIY, with cottonian book bindings.  They're rather lovely.

TNHG are also explaining what a hair guard is (with a very nice, brief look at whether Dickens really was paid by the word!).  Victorians were quite ingenious with human hair weaving.

"A Short Dip" and Other Stories

There is a very particular grainy, color-saturated-even-as-color-has-faded look and feel to GENUINE vintage photos.  It's been imitated a great deal in the past fifteen years or so, but never quite synthesized.

Aaron Rose took a series of photos at Coney Island in the 1960s; they feel both exactly of their time and quite immediate.

The incredible crowd shots - the first photo of the series is particularly exciting.  It's one of those very rare vintage shots which is NOT just a sea of white, middle-class people.  Many browns, many ages.  That is unfortunately atypical in our historical images, so a scene showing hardly ANY pasty faces is quite striking.  Take a look at the woman's hair at the bottom center, the statuesque goddess in profile.  Faces of strength, joy, and relaxation.

The amorous embraces, in particular, feel like they are *happening* - a pale knee kicked up, cradling a lover, almost unremarked behind the stunning symmetry of a body builder posing imposingly.  A mature couple lying on the sand, the woman's indistinct but perfect hand draped around his curling hair and fading into a perfectly overexposed arm.  The Black man and woman, not in an embrace, but lying close together, her eyes looking just barely away from his face, her expression inscrutable, eternal.  The green asian pattern on her cotton sleeveless shift.

Plaid and cotton.  Heat and haze.  Leopard bathing suit all the vintage girls will die for.  The tall, skinny man taken from below, so he appears almost endlessly tall, even with tiny stretches of un-matched horizontal stripes in a short jacket, in his trunks.  His cigarette.  Lawn chairs strung with that particular light, scratching plastic banding we used for so many years.  They all seem to be green and white, those chairs.

It is summer time.

Makes me want to take a short dip in the evening, at the old pool where I spent so much of my childhood.  After everyon's gone home for supper, but dad feels like cooling off, just for a minute.  Nobody around but the evening insects in the encroaching trees.  Sound of water and swamp, smell of chlorine - the scent of pool water on hot concrete cooling off, settling quietly in the evening.  The heat of the lamps under the water - how I used to cling to those when the water began to feel chilly.  Imagining the shadows my little self must have made.

Bathing suits before spandex.  I had one of cotton, little elastic legs and waistband, flowered cotton.  I had one a few years later - the MOD looking one, I got it in the hand-me-downs from that girl who was always the most beautiful in our schools - lime green.  Ring in the center, ties around the neck.  Instead of spandex, we had tiny little rubber threads.  Worn too much - or bum-scraped across one too many concrete pool decks, as we sat on the edge waiting for Adult Swim to be over, or just playing by the chairs, sitting on the ground - those little threads would fray and lose cohesion with the rest of the suit. Filament-thin grey threads of rubber or latex, they'd worm out of the suit when they broke.  And you'd get a baggy spot.

I'm old, and have come to that age where "looking back" is a leisure activity of the most stereotypical kind.  My friend Holly, who could not let her hair get wet.  I was so jealous of her Black hair - she could twist her ponytails into these long modified corkscrew braids.  White girl hair doesn't do that.  But I could swim underwater.  I stayed underwater most of the time.  And, at the end of the day, that queer soreness in the lungs - my mom called it being "waterlogged" - probably from holding my breath and breathing in strange patterns for hours and hours.  All my younger friends, the first time in my life little kids adopted me for a friend - the little tow-blonde girl with the red suit with a navy bow.  Four of them glommed on my back at once, riding in the 4-foot as I walked, letting them hang off of me.  They'd surf, holding my hair, as I dragged them.  I think one or two might have learned to swim that way.

The really really skinny girl from the sad family, and her really really fat sister.  They were a little older than me, but they let me hang out with them.

My family.  The time mom hurt herself so bad, diving.  My brother and his friends.  My dad.  Swimming with my dad.

It is summer time.  Time to breathe hot, muggy air and stand still - watching for lightning bugs.  And listening to the nighttime hum of all the other insects ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Random Thought

Is it weird that sometimes I plan outfits round the jewelry I want to wear, rather than the other way around?

I think the person I’m thinking of as I ask this question knows who she is …  ;)

Monday, May 19, 2014

"It Got Weird, Didn't It?"

I've been mawking on here and there for some time about mysterious stressors and looming things, fear, and all sorts of self-indulgent twaddle used as excuses to basically work through my thoughts as life endured a prolonged period of uncertainty and pain.  Let it be announced:  this will stop.  (And the readers rejoiced.)

Life's greater irritants are a funny thing, though - how they can "be there" for very long periods of time, without quite making themselves comprehensible, and sometimes taking on an unrealness we almost depend on, if the difficulty is particularly long lasting.  So when some fear comes to a head - when it "gets real" - it can be seriously weird.  Your brain has to manage things it's been working its way around for a long time.  Indeed, it has to manage things you've trained it very much not to manage, to put off, to ignore.

Douglas Adams described this in a genius way, describing nothing of the kind of course - but his device fits the situation all too well.  The Somebody Else's Problem (SEP) field.  The SEP field is far easier and cheaper than invisibility, and just as effective.  It is the phenomenon by which we mentally edit out things we can't let ourselves see (or know, or deal with) if the business of daily living is to be done.

Leave an SEP field in place in your mind for too long, and *visibility* may become your problem.  There are those (most of us?) who prefer it that way, but it's no way to get your math homework done.

When the SEP field crumbles, as it so often does (and frequently at inconvenient moments, like a little emotional meltdown at your mater on Mother's Day ...):

It gets weird.

Where, one minute, life's going along swimmingly in the complete absence of water, suddenly the swimming stops, the drought becomes clear, and the swimmer tends to do one of those bits like the coyote when he stops in midair some fifteen feet from the edge of the cliff.  Life goes all "Hey, I can't support myself in this midair" and suddenly you're all worried about a drought that's been on for years.

Ahh, mixed metaphors, how I love you.  (Things can get weird in this way as well.)

I've spent nearly two years with an SEP field which went bad recently (go ahead, guess when), and today - the cartoonist drew a completely unexpected net under my flailing.

And so, here I am, bouncing slightly, very seriously giddy still about how high the net had to be to catch me safely, feeling it magically waft gently to earth with me safely in it, and watching the clouds scud by above.

It's a glorious day, and I am more fortunate than I will ever deserve to be.  Grateful, and thankful (two different things, I have been realizing frequently of late).  And, so far, safe on my way to solid ground.

May your days be as fortunate.

Friday, May 16, 2014

RIP Mary Stewart

I remember the summer day I was staying with my aunt in Northern Virginia, and she took me to a bookstore.  I remember where it was.  I remember how bright it was that day.  And I remember the very first time I ever saw the covers.  I was naive, I was only fourteen.  That was when I met Merlin.  That was when I met Mary Stewart.

Compression Ratio

It is odd but true that storytelling provides contradictory commands.  Going through Ax again, with eyes perhaps better open than they have been in the past, I recognize some of those legends I've spaced out in years.

The tales of Clovis are like most half-fabled histories; there is much that is apocryphal, plenty of fancy, and an intriguing lot of possible-facts which present in suspiciously tidy little anecdotes.  Clovis is humiliated before his army at his first conquest:  having to ask for a treasure back from one of the soldiers (to return it to the church) he sees the treasure smashed before his eyes, to the soundtrack of a few choice words about what a bad king he is for doing takebacks.

No finer a moment for a king than any kid on a playground - and significantly more expensive in prestige, if you measure things by crowns.

The immediate next breath of this legend illustrates Clovis' revenge upon this soldier.

Thing is, the immediate next breath is generally retold with some allusion to time having passed.  Sometimes it's a year, sometimes it's not recounted - and, often of course, it's not really said at all.

I put YEARS between the destruction of the Vase at Soissons (please note the title of my novel; it comes from this famous propaganda).  It worked with my rhythms - I'm a capricious creature - the times when they were named seemed too neatly story-teller-ish - choose your reason, the revenge is served seriously cold The Ax and the Vase.

Similarly, Clovis' conversion to Catholicism (I'm not spoilering the action too badly for you, am I ... ?) occurs, and tends *usually* to be followed with the assertion he immediately also was baptized.

Based on real research, in this instance, I'm skeptical this was the case.  The tale is told, again, with the cadence and breathlessness of legend, most often.  Not as a recital civic record.

In this matter, I separated the baptism from the conversion both because it makes no sense to me the whole hog got et in a moment - but also because, based on certain parallels to Constantine, and based on Clovis himself, these two steps were quite distinct for him - and the one in no way demanded the other.

Baptism is an anointing, and Clovis was the anointed king.  He was also, according to family legend from a god of the sea.  His royal coronation anointed him and enshrined the mystical charisma of his blood - which he believed was the blood of a god.  (No.  Not of Jesus of Nazareth.  Don't even start with me, y'all.)

To go from accepting the Catholic religion to actually submitting to an anointing - the very rite which provided him his THRONE - must have been prodigious.  Extraordinary.


The crux of the baptism of Clovis I - for him, for all of Europe and its history for the past fifteen hundred YEARS - is that it was a shift from the tenet of *divine right* to that of *divine descent*.

Let me tell you this.  For a king like Clovis:  THIS.  Was a step down.

He went from believing he had the blood of a sea god in his veins, the bistea neptunis of legend ... to meekly accepting permission to rule, from a god whom for most of his life he had no use at all.  Even when he did convert, there is reason to wonder how deeply sincere the moment - and the years after - were, in terms of Clovis' faith.  Let it not be said his reign suffered from his endorsement of his Church.

As for the novel, I posited some political canniness working in concert with spiritual conviction.  As any human who's ever had it or sought it knows, spiritual conviction isn't the bedrock we want it to be.  We abandon it often, and find it both invincible and fallible, all in the same lifetime.

Sometimes, in the same day.

I have to believe that, for Clovis to commit as he did to the Church, faith was *necessary*.

But I also know, he's most famed for killing off his own kinsmen and then whining about being alone (and here we have another writer's tale, about how we dealt with *that* legend - but that's another post and, frankly, doesn't hew to the theme of today's musing on the chronology and compression-in-time of legendary events).

Human hearts contain multitudes, and it's no contradiction, to me as an author, to consider that Clovis both believed and held some part of himself back from his new religion.  That he thought he could have his divine descent, and his faith in Christ.  Most of us know people with greater contradictions still - almost all of us house them in ourselves, whether we can recognize and/or admit it or not.

It has more logic, for me, than "he did everything all at once, the happy happy end."

Plus, it means my novel is not a short story.  All to the good, that.

And now, back to polishing the thing.  So it can get out and be sold.

Big Job, Little Job - Soft Nights and Soft Cats

Today was one of those days with The Big Job to do.  In this case, that was a fairly sophisticated and elaborately-constructed confection of Excel and PowerPoint, balancing across the chasm of (thank goodness I have these) two large monitor screens, and basically both sticking out their tongues at me, taunting me.  Unfortunately for these particular Excel and PPT data, I appear to be a reasonably quick study, and the were unable to daunt me entirely.  Four or five pithy and specific questions fell out of the job - but, considering its scope and importance (and the urgency for it - all this was before eleven a.m.), that's pretty good brevity in the unanswered-questions-about-incredibly-involved-numbers department.  Better still, I'm very definitely gaining comfort with a process and with information that, only three weeks ago, I had never seen before.

As old as I am, it appears I am still capable of learning, and it's gratifying not only to "get it" but also to know that my coming to understand these things *makes me more valuable*.

A week or so ago, in one of those hallway-chats with another admin, she said to me, "They have you working on things that are way beyond your job description."  She wasn't pooh-pooh'ing it nor complaining on my behalf, the way we kind of do with office friends, she was just expressing surprise at how much I'm taking on.

I've been part of a slow-starting project which will cross not only all of the business lines at our employer, but also includes a number of departments participating in an initiative.  Not a great deal has happened there, but it's already introduced me to folks and groups I wouldn't know (yet anyway) otherwise, and it's showing me to those people.  Never a bad thing - for me individually, nor for my boss and my group, whom I represent.

I'm also working on this sophisticated update work, which will be a regular task going forward.  Less visible, but ongoing - and so, just as valuable and in (usefully) different ways.

There have been times since leaving my last job, one of a significant majority within my career which was focused on financial services, that I've thought about the opinions Certain People might have about my move.  The industry I've come to is heavily populated with regular guys - you don't see a lot of suits, you don't hear so much self-conscious corporate-speak.  We distribute stuff.  One of the areas of greatest focus in my work now is the fleet.

It's impossible for me not to believe that some of my acquaintances see this move as being downward in a way that doesn't answer to the actual content of my job, my satisfaction with it, the people, or the executive-ness of those I support.  There is this culture in the US, that “white collar” is superior to … well, anything else, in some ineffable (indefensible) way, but:  I just don’t see that.  Not least, because – frankly, how many people even WEAR white collars anymore?  The only people I’ve seen in that old standard, “professional dress” for the past fifteen years have been women.  Oh, we had ‘em at That One Place – but it wasn’t as ubiquitous a conformity of suitedness as you might have found just a few years before I worked at “the second-highest administrative tier of one of the largest financial services firms in the nation.”  Not by a heck of a shot.  It’s all Polos all the time almost anwhere you work now, and if grey flannel was drab, lord deliver me from khakis …  Heh.  (It’s a mighty fine thing I do not go man-shopping when I am at work.)

Anyway – as to the content of my job, which I would consider to be a pretty important factor in any job, let it be said that I see no kind of diminishment in the fact that the information I work with is about trucks instead of servers.  There is nothing intrinsically elite about the hardware of a computer - and, though the computers for which I supported a team to mess with 'em were destined to move our nation's economy ... well, now the trucks I work with have a bit to do with our economy as well, frankly - and I'm much more deeply involved in their particulars than I ever could be in those humming bits of hardware I never even saw.

I see "my" trucks now.  All the time.  Not twenty-four hours ago, I was eyeing one of our drivers on the freeway, making sure he was behaving.  It gratifies me that my favorite places to eat are supplied by people I know, with products I can get behind, that I get to eat well every day at work, that sometimes I'm the real, human voice a person gets when they call our company with a problem or a question.

Yet there is zero doubt in my mind there are people (both those I have worked with, one or two I share blood with, and some I just "know" to one degree or another) who imagine I've moved down in the world.

Yeah, well, this "down" and crucial set of duties I've enjoyed digging into more deeply over the past five months.  It comes with people I respect every bit as much as anywhere else I've ever been, and intriguing little perks too.  There's an aspect of comedy at my office not available anywhere else I've *ever* worked (how many cubes in your cube farm house gigantic glass jugs of wine sitting alongside big jars of minced garlic and giant cans of anchovies, all of which are funny enough - but have recently been befriended by a few pretty sizeable cans of what looks like butane? Party!).  There are the occasional treats left for us to enjoy - not just catering after a meeting, but that one day it was a full crate of breads, or the more-hazelnut-than-cocoa-version-of-Nutella stuff someone had at their desk with a generous supply of sampling spoons.

There is the fact that, seriously, the meat where I work now is easily twenty times better than the stuff at my last job that, even when they tried so hard to make it palatable, seriously was like enough to make the Baby Jesus cry.

That's not small potatoes, kids - you should pardon the expression (not like you get any choice, right?).

Even the fact that the toilets don't flush at me before I've even had the chance to get in the dadgum stall, and I now don't have the tiny, momentary psychic stress EVERY SINGLE DAY of wondering whether the idiot things would do it again - that's one less constant, tiny damned stressor in my life.  All to the good, thank you very much.

I have no more to apologize for in where I work today than I ever had to apologize for in being a secretary at all, is what I am saying.

Not the only point on my mind, though (inevitably).

I haven't taken a lot of time to just REVEL in this job change.  At first – well, it was the holidays and I felt bad about leaving my last job (that was so hard) and I’d been in the habit of lying about even looking for a job for so long maybe the stealth just clung to me.  I know I didn't want to go all gooey and "oh I have this shiny new thing in my life" (again).

But ... I haven't really reveled in a lot of the shiny new things in my life, over the past two years.

Gossamer was easy, and I still revel in his shiny little pearl-grey butt.  Penelope, as everybody knows, didn't kick off a period of easy-as-pie New Puppy Love.  As much as I love her, our honeymoon period was perfumed with poop more than pina coladas, or whatever it is The Kids Today enjoy on their honeymoons (I never really did one of those).  So - the new job, I didn't want to get too excited.  The whiff, in particular, of being a complete snot to my former coworkers, whom I still miss very much, seemed very much inappropriate, professionally.  So I kept the teenage-girl-with-a-new-crush thing tamped down.

I've kept a lot of excitement tamped down, is what I'm saying.  Not wanting to jinx things, or concentrating on other things, or just not wanting to be an insufferable braggart about insert-my-blessing-here.

Seems to me, though there are still and always reasons not to be a shrill little LOOKIT ME drama queen about it, I should perhaps review this policy of constraint on those causes for jubilation I am blessed with.  It's not natural for me, and ... well, you know, three years and counting without a vacation proper – two years of stress and fear since Sweet Siddy La’s death – Mr. X being squillions of miles away.

I could use some reason to get happy.

Pharell, of course, is all very well - but that song only lasts a couple of minutes, and I am no Lupita Nyongo and I know it.  I just need a little seat-dancing.   A little open-windows-going-down-the-road-with-good-driving-music.  Eine kleine nachtmusik, even.  The year has finally realized it's time to provide what my dad always joyously described as "soft nights" (I can hear his satisfied, deep intake of breath now, his low, gruff voice filled with a warm smile).  With luck - I'll get to those unbearably lovely nights in June with more reason to be thankful than I deserve.

We'll see.

For now, moment by moment.  With my great job.  My headache-inducing chart data.  And one non-poopy puppy and a pearl grey cat.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Invisible ()

(Women, that is ...)

You hear about invisible men throughout the arts - but there are no invisible women - because nobody can see them.

One of the rarest creatures in fiction is the disabled woman.  I have one in Ax, actually, but she plays a supporting role, with very little time on the novel's stage.  The History Girls tells us about a truly intriguing character.  Ever heard of Lady Crookback ... ?  And don't forget to give the link I posted previously a chance.  It's a stunning story ... of a tragically visible woman indeed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scholarship, Authorship

Like many people, I fancy myself a history buff - but, for me, there is a distinct and a clear dividing line between my interest (scattershot, variable, and personal as it is) and An Historian.  It is likely I know more than any layperson needs to about pattern welding, horse breeding in Late Antiquity Northern Europe, grave goods, grave goods, grave goods, and grave goods - yet what I know is both ephemeral (once I've used it to my storytelling ends, I let it go) and deeply, utterly unprofessional.  I will never be the person to whom *anyone* should ever turn with actual substantive questions about the history of my periods and places - and I do not want to be.

There are history nerds and historical fiction authors all over, who would consider themselves competent to expound on the points of their personal interest in our past.  I am not one of these people.

For one, even years into the writing, I still must turn to a spot of research now and then, to reassure myself I've done something right (or that, in revising it, I won't do something wrong).  For two, I still occasionally find sources I did not find when work was in full force, and new ways of looking at the way I've treated the story myself.

And STORY is the ultimate key word.  Not history.

I came to Late Antiquity Gaul for a *reason* - I used it - I have spun out of it something both history and fiction ... and there is no soul less likely in this world than I, to tell you that historical fiction is remotely like the science of *history*.  I want only to tell a story.  It'd be nice for me, to keep all those guitarists off my back, to feel I've told it without too much glaring stupidity.  But, at the end of the day:  I am not rigorous.  I am not disciplined.  I am not a good source.

Gossamer the Editor Cat sez:
"I do not play guitar."

I have written nothing resembling the product of work and dedication and critical thinking which we like to think of as actual history.

I thought critically about what would make for a good novel.

I was dedicated to my writing.

I have worked, now for enough years I don't even want to tot the full duration up for you right now.  The next novels will not take so long.  I won't be educating myself how to write one (at an advancing age).  I won't be educating myself how to get the thing published.  But it's a lot of years ...

MY critical thinking and my work and my dedication - even my enthusiasm and confidence and - yes, I'll use the word - passion for The Ax and the Vase, are in no way the same thing as the scholarship and the work of a professional.  Not a professional historian, anyway - one hopes we'll be able to call it the work of a paid, published, and agented author.

If someone ever asked me about the costume of my period - the gender roles - the religions and the laws - I would hope I could at least provide some response.  But I would hope, simultaneously, that anyone asking me about that was doing so in the context of knowing my work - not as a student, nor expecting worthwhile instruction.  Conversations and considerations of history are fascinating and exciting.  But I will never be a resource for study.

It seems to me unlikely in the extreme that anyone will ever look to Diane Major as an authority of any kind.  Yet there are authors who like very well to participate in documentaries and studies of history.  I admire *their* confidence - and I know authors who do have the chops to expound (Elizabeth Chadwick, I'm looking at you).

Me, I fear the very idea of anyone trusting me that far.  I took what I needed, built with and built ON it.  If Ax feels authentic at all, that was the aim and intention.  That and my own fascination with the time, the place, the people.

But my tools are blunted, now the building is up.  They're no good for anyone else's use.

The tour through the edifice is all I care about now - people seeing what's inside, exploring, enjoying what I've built.  Not looking to me as a true architect.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dreaming Is Free

Like most of us, I've always got ideas for "what I could do" - either in the case of if only I had more money or if only I had (or took) some time.  Some dreams are easier than others (I've been without a bathroom downstairs in my home since last July), but the time ones are the real temptors.

Penelope has graduated from her cage - on a day it was a blessing to have something good happen - and I am so happy for her.  I never was comfortable with "crate training" (the euphemism for caging, or the practice just in itself), giving a healthy puppy something like four feet by three to endure all day long.

Her graduation - her freedom (and good behavior) means that the room dominated for two years almost by her cage can now become a room again.  Once my back is better, I'll enjoy quite a bit, taking the desk out of the room currently acting as a rather defunct office, maybe reconfiguring what's already there, and having a beautiful sunny place to set up laptop and so on.  A good place to write.

And free.

The restoration of the downstairs bathroom?  Another day.

But soon I'll be able to fix up that West Wing of mine - and even maybe do a couple fun things in the room my desk will be vacating.

I'm trying hard to distract myself from the more harrowing aspects of what makes life so difficult, in that link above.  Some days, it's all I can do.

But do it, I can.  And I am.

Conservation the Long Way

Fourteen years to even draw the bath - five years to spend *in* it.  It almost sounds like a cosmetic procedure, heh.

Another intriguing post at The History Blog, explaining the preservation procedures for the Hunley, a submarine of the Confederacy.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Schrödinger's Back

My mom and I made plans, through this week, to bail on all the usual Mother's Day brunches and shopping opportunities, and just want to do our own thing, go where the wind takes us.  I haven't canceled this plan yet, but I have asked for one five-minute indulgence before we get properly on our way:  my mom gives good back rubs, and I am in much need.

A little while ago, upstairs getting dressed to go over to her house (and I look pretty cute - AND am wearing a pair of her earrings I used to just dream of and adore when I was a little girl), I noticed a little pain in my upper back.  It's been bugging me here and there - that meaty spot between the shoulder blade and spine, but buggings don't get in the way of life, and with a back like mine, that's just how it goes.

Then I picked up my purse and water and the gift bag and tissue to go downstairs and put together the little fun things I got for mom.  And as my right leg took just the very first step on my stairs, the few pounds of weight from the handbag (admittedly large, and admittedly laden with not just my usual stuff but also my tablet) apparently did a little magic on that meaty bit, and I found myself frozen on that first step, unable to breathe, wishing I could so I could scream, and realizing the pain was so intense and so acute that I was actually fighting down the rather burning urge to actually throw up.

Good times.

I made it down the stairs, and decided, okay, it's my upper back, I can walk, this isn't going to do anything to our day.  Made my way to the couch, where I now sit with a couple NSAIDs working their way around and two good firm pillows at my back (they're *always* on this duty; some day, I want a new - shallower - couch).  Talking with mom a few minutes ago, I heard Goss in the kitchen messing with the gift bag, and stood up.


I damn near lost my ability to breathe, and probably ruined her mood to boot.  Happy Mother's Day ... erm.

So here I am, letting the analgesic do its thing, giving it half an hour or so before I try to move again, and entirely unaware whether I'll be able to do so competently when the time comes.

Whatever happens, my plan is to enjoy a day with my mom.  Aieee - I can do this thing ...

Still.  Hard not to hope the cat's actually alive.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"Modernity and I agreed to disagree."

I am reeling from the first-person piece here at The History Girls.  Intensely good, immediate - strange and entrancing.  The story of Julia Pastrana, the ape-woman whose career as a circus "freak" spanned continents ... and more than a century ...

Fifty-three and the good times were over for monsters

It's chilling, and rather beautiful.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Gaining Weight

Progress on the final polish has been quite gratifying; nearly one month in, I'm more than one-fourth the way through the whole, doing bits of backtracking here and there, but mostly moving front-to-back in a blissfully (semi-)logical progression.  I *still* find myself having mini-wigs about continuity, and even have adjusted a few nuts and bolts here and there for tightness.  But for the most part, this survey mission is not so grueling a proposition as the last - far too slow - edit.

This evening I've finally hit that point where I had a somewhat less "mini" wig out about the whole project.  You have to have these, and I'm not gnashing my teeth and yelling at furbabies - but it's still a little scary contemplating word counts.

I'd slimmed the work down to 118,297, and it now stands at 126,741.  To my author's sensibilities, this is both good and bad:  we, The Great Unpublished, are fed a steady diet (even for historical fiction) that manuscripts MUST BE SHORT (or, translated more kindly, that "every single word must move the plot forward").  The million sources for advice to aspiring authors is to cut every last bit that isn't propelling the action; even culturally, we've developed a real allergy to exposition and description.

And yet, the agent who told me to "get back to work" told me that the object of this would be to get some meat on the bones.  To put food in the kitchen, as it were.

I had cut scenes to the point that "establishing shots" were the barest "we were in the work room" or "we were on our horses" - with no depth of feeling within the characters, or texture in the world.  Some works, it just ain't easy to trim down to 118.3k.  And so, it is gratifying to be able to go in and provide more, rather than less.

It's also nigh-impossible (even for a pragmatist) not to get a little giddy at the thought of going too far.

Nearly ten-thousand words, and I'm 1/4 the way through.  *Shudder*

But I'm 1/4 the way through.  Close, actually, to 1/3.


I just hope I'm not on the wrong ... track.  Heh.

Also - please, will someone tell me who approved its becoming May 8?  How is it May 8?

Writing for a Very Specific Audience - and Other New Stories ...

Caroline Lawrence has a post at The History Girls today, about her work on writing for dyslexic (or reluctant) readers.  I find this a fascinating process *and* product.  A fresh and experienced eye is always good to have, but finding someone with the very particular type of wisdom one must have to produce works for audiences beyond the mainstream must be both invaluable - and very hard to find, if this is the sort of project you wish to work on.

There are probably guitarists who'd have a lovely good sneer about rewriting something like The Aeneid - and would faint dead away, clutching their pearls all the way down, about doing so in the spirit of Sunset Boulevard - but like the feel and the urgency of the passage Lawrence provides.  I can see how it would work - because it works on me - and isn't that the point, with *any* writing?

Honestly, I'd love to be able to find the editors she mentions, Ruth and Mairi - what interview subjects they would make, particularly Mairi, for the peculiar needs of a dyslexic revision.  The Night Raid will be released May 12 (though this is Amazon.UK, so our mileage MAY vary, on this side of the pond - see also, issues I'm having with the purchase of Tom Williams' His Majesty's Confidential Agent).  I may have to nab that one ... woe betide my TBR pile.

Stealing from INXS?

I just had a little fun using the phrase "elegantly sated" in the latest polish, getting a bit of food on the tables, so to speak.  As much as this might sound like a certain INXS song, the fact is, this particular phrase is actually a tribute to someone - well, who once was - in my family.

We still quote him.  "It is an elegant sufficiency.  Anything more would be a superfluity."

I can admit, Michael Hutchence's superfluity (though he actually was a tiny little thing; saw him live once, basically doing one long Armani-down-to-bike-shorts-and-combat-boots strip tease) did work for me, just fine.  Fortunately, my physics-major boyfriend at the time seemed not to mind

The vid still looks slick, modern, and even current to me.  Then again, I am old and wildly out of touch.  *Grin*

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Gary Corby tells us about the Father of History's inception of that greatest of events - an author's reading in support of book sales.  Welcome to 440 BCE ...

Donna Everheart lays out very nicely the reasons I'm always telling people I do NOT expect to be able to quit my job to become a full-time author.  Published or not, it's not a big-bucks business for any but the very, VEEERRRY few ...

Who needs a kiss?  Passion of Former Days lives up to its adjective here - I think I like the Donyale Luna one best.  If only because it gives me a chance to use her name, which I have always loved.  Though Russ Tamblyn and Venetia Stevenson's photo is a stunning image!

Jeff Sypeck gives us the story of a weed, with a side of etymology.  (I love etymology almost as much as I love purple flowers.  Okay, more.)

Commie-informer, massive tax enthusiast, good kisser (to the detriment of two Hollywood careers) - ten of the now-lesser-known facts about The Gipper.

Cat's Eye(s)

For ten years, this was a catless household.  Sweet Siddy-La, for all her wonders, never was a cat girl, and she was blessing enough I was happy to be cat free as long as I was lucky enough to have her.  Every now and then, I'd think about how charming it is to have a pet you can scoop up and nuzzle, but I never felt deprived, not with her around.

In July, it'll be two years since I had a cat again, and Gossamer has been a pretty wonderful companion.  He and Penelope together are the source of more of my laughter than any other thing in the world.  They are dear in such different ways, and I'm so thankful I found each one of them.

One of the magical things about a cat is the high honor it can be to earn their trust.

Some people may be familiar with the way a cat can sit silently, regarding you, and make a point of squeezing its eyes shut for a second or two.  I wonder how many people know what this closed-eyes moment means, in feline parlance.

Many mammals express trust and/or submission by exposing their bellies - the ultimate expression of trust and acceptance of authority over themselves.  Cats are far less prone to expressing submission the way dogs may do with their humans - but they will sometimes tell you they trust you, which is as deep a communication as one creature can give another.  A cat who closes its eyes at you has given you the profoundest gift any of us can give:  its trust.

Image:  Wikimedia

Cats' eyes are known for their hugeness, their luminescence, their steady gaze.  They can be so intense, and those who know Gossie know his eyes are great green jewels.  As brightly as they photograph:  they look like that in life.  I used to joke, when he was a kitten and his coloring still softer and paler than it has become, that he had "snot-green" eyes.  But they've always been arresting little beams of light.  He's always had a remarkable little gaze.

By the time I adopted Goss, I had finally learned how to behave in forming a new relationship with a cat.  The main thing, even when they are VERY small still, is never to impose yourself on them physically.  You can offer pettin' and scoop 'em up twenty hours a day, as long as it's always an offer first, and you let them accept.

The amazing thing is how incredibly affectionate a cat you can find on your hands, when you don't start off your life with one, picking it up and snoodling on it, every time *you* feel like a snuggle.  How trusting a cat you can find before you, if you always, always - always - offer your attention openly, but stop just short of actually giving it every time, and let them consent, every time.

A hand held out, but not connecting for a pet or a caress, will attract a cat into a pet or a caress pretty much every time, if he has enough autonomy in the transaction that that last two or three inches is *his* to close, to make the connection.

It's like that, too, with writing - and, I think most particularly, with revising, with very fine polishing.

The work I'm doing now is not formation - not even restoration, but a revisiting.  This is the word that keeps coming to mind, when I describe it to anyone.

I'm not recreating what came before and I removed, but I'm opening a door to all the accumulated knowledge, the lost scenes, the descriptions and everything I know and did not use, or took out - and I'm finding that, what needs to be back in, is coming to the door, coming to me, without my having to really inventory the sum of what could be used, and wrestle it out of my head and onto the page.

The advantage of having worked on The Ax and the Vase for as long as I have is that I know its resources really well.  I live in a world littered with useful components, and if I don't force my way to one nifty thing or another - if I am open, exciting things will come.

Gossie knows I don't impose myself on his little body without his knowledge and consent.  Because of this, he's willing to close his eyes around me, because he trusts me with ... well, if not his person, then his feline, perhaps.  Because of this, I have a gregarious and friendly cat who is totally Mamma's Boy, even when neato new people are around who can give him exciting and new and yummy affection and admiration.  He's great with new people.  But he's more "my" pet than any cat I ever had before, and I've had some really nice cats in my day.

Ax seems, too, to trust me, and to come to me, at this point.  And as I type now, there seems to be a trusting little warm ball of grey nestling against my hip.  Aww.

It's ironic that learning how not to control something in life turns out to be the best way to get it to cooperate.

I really need to apply this to my human relationships ...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, Gossie!

Well, now the kids are both two years old.  And there is nothing terrible about it, when the kids are all fuzz-bearing and growing up marvelous and adorable.

Raindrops on daisies
and whiskers on kittens ...

Thank you to Gossamer for being my sweet kiddo.